We sat down for a little Q&A with Rock Health entrepreneur and Covered CEO and privacy expert Noah Lang. You can catch Lang at Rock Health’s CEO Summit next week, where he’ll be diving into privacy issues on his panel, Privacy by Design.
What was your inspiration for Covered?
A year ago, I needed to select a health plan from my wife’s employer options. There were only 4 choices, and we’re pretty healthy people, so it couldn’t be that hard, right? I searched for our favorite doctors, but had to do it in four different places. I tried to search for some preferred drugs to figure out what they would cost and found it nearly impossible to compare. In search of an apples-to-apples comparison, I built an excel model to figure out what might happen if I tear my knee up skiing again or one of us needed emergency care, but very quickly realized it takes more data than a single person can wrangle with to find the answer to those questions. And that data is very hard to get.
Everybody told me there were already tools out there to help consumers with their coverage decisions. I tried all of them. None of the tools gave me confidence in my decision or helped me understand the product I was purchasing. In fact, none treated health insurance like a consumer product at all. The average consumer is willing to spend 9 minutes choosing a plan so often ends up taking an “educated guess.” It was clear to me that it was time for a new vocabulary: insurance in the context of the individual. I set out to ensure consumers can make a logic-driven decision in that amount of time, or less—without picking up the phone, without confusion, and without resorting to educated guesses.
Why must health transactions become more accessible to consumers?
Nobody uses the word consumer in healthcare. It’s a patient, an employee, an insured. Healthcare companies are focused on the traditional “payers,” not the consumer. Well, guess who pays the bills at the end of the day? Us. We are customers and deserve to be treated like we’re buying expensive, complex products.
Not only does health coverage come in just behind housing and transportation as one of the largest personal investments of the year, it’s the hub-of-the-wheel that impacts every downstream health transaction that a family makes. This is the reality in a world where only 14% of the employed population are able explain the four key concepts of insurance (deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximums). When consumers don’t understand their own coverage, they’re not equipped to understand each subsequent transaction in their doctor’s office, the pharmacy, or the hospital. As a result, we as Americans often under-use, overpay, and remain in a general state of confusion.
255M Americans see a doctor every year. Most have no idea how much they’ll pay. 150M Americans take a drug every month, but only 19% mail-order those drugs to save 30% of costs. Why? Because the matrix of plan “benefits” from our carriers and employers is pure cognitive overload for most of us. I believe in speaking the language of the consumer—not the insurance carriers—so I set out to simplify the experience, ensure product comprehension, and save consumers money. At Covered, we translate coverage into a language everybody can understand.
How has your background in data collection and tracking influenced your approach to Covered?
Prior to founding Covered, I built and sold privacy products at Reputation.com for 5 years. In the midst of the social media revolution, I witnessed both the underbelly of the personal data trade and the beautiful experiences that can be built when that data is used effectively.
Personalization is not a commonly used word in healthcare. The “payer” focus is traditionally on the population, rather than the individual. I think it can be done a different way, particularly if we want to liberate individuals and families to direct their own health spending. Covered borrows from streamlined consumer experiences in recommendation engines like Netflix and Amazon, and delivers them to health insurance transactions. Users can enjoy personalized experiences by sharing data with us, but we can only succeed so long as we’re honest about what we know about you as a consumer and how we use that information. The value at Covered for the user is explicit: you’re not wasting time starting from scratch filling out an overwhelming form. Covered uses your shared data to make the process easier and provide high-confidence recommendations. Then, we earn your trust for the long run by responding with value every time you share information, never asking for more information than we need at that point in time (“Focused Collection”), and never sharing it with 3rd parties unless you ask us to.
What role does privacy protection play in the digital health space?
We have to start thinking of it in terms of the consumer perspective on privacy rather than just falling back on HIPAA as our only guide. Consumers stand to benefit from health data collection and analysis with tangible improvements to their health shopping experiences, but each individual must decide if they are comfortable with the trade-off. At Covered, there’s a lot of good we can do with personal health information. The more a family shares with us the more refined a plan recommendation we can deliver. But the only way to trump very real privacy fears and execute on our responsibility to protect your data is to design a privacy-centric experiences from the ground up (“Privacy by Design”).
In digital health today there’s an attitude we’ve seen before: collect as much information as you can about this person and there will be some way to monetize it later. The last go-round, many multi-billion dollar brands like Facebook and Experian were tarnished by personal data privacy fiascos in the social revolution. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen in the health tech revolution, I’d highly recommend reading the White House’s “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” to any consumer health entrepreneurs out there—keep your product dialed on Focused Collection, Transparency, Access, and Control.
Noah Lang is the Founder and CEO of Covered, Inc., aiming to translate health coverage transactions into simple language. He is a recognized expert in online behavioral tracking, consumer data collection, and digital PII publication, and he sits on the DMA’s Data Governance Advisory Board. Before Covered, Lang was a founding VP of Business Development at Reputation.com and in 2011, he was selected as a “Privacy by Design Amabassador.”